News 18 Nov 14

100,000 Croats Remember Fall of Vukovar

Around 100,000 citizens along with entire Croatian political leadership took part this year in commemorations of the fall of the eastern town of Vukovar in 1991 to the Yugoslav Army.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Zoran Milanovic (second from left) and Ivo Josipovic (second from right) at Vukovar commemoration. Photo: Beta

Around 100,000 people took part in the now traditional commemoration of the fall of the eastern Croatian town in 1991, walking five kilometres from the town hospital - were about 200 Croat prisoners were taken away and shot - to the memorial graveyard, where all the died are now buried.

Vukovar was under siege from Yugoslav army and Serbian paramilitaries from August and November 1991, when the last defenders surrendered.

The town was almost levelled in the siege and causalities were massive. After it fell, all non-Serbian citizens were expelled. More controversially, the Serbs took the 200 or so wounded people they found in the hospital to a nearby farm and shot them.

Croatia's political leadership all attended the event, headed by President Ivo Josipovic and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic.

Last year, a group of Vukovar war veterans, called Headquarters for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar, blocked the two centre-left politicians from joining the commemoration walk.

They were angered by government plans to introduce bilingual Serbian Cyrillic signs to the town in January 2013. Members of the veterans groups demolished a number of them, clashing with police in September 2013.

They then pushed for a referendum on the subject, gathering over 500,000 signatures. However, the call for a referendum was rejected by the constitutional court in August.

Military brigades leading the commemorative column. Photo by Beta

There was no such blockade this year, although some war veterans started their march earlier, to avoid coming into contact with the politicians.

The Mayor of Vukovar, Ivan Penava, said the march was not the right place for political arguments. “Everybody has to come and pay their respects to those who were killed and the surviving heroes,” he said.

“Unity and respect for all the victims must be the message sent from Vukovar. Everything else is politicization, using Vukovar for some other purposes,” Penava added.

The head of Croatia's opposition centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, Tomislav Karamarko, also said the day needed to be kept sacrosanct to the fallen.

This was “no day for political trash talk, for those who want to use it for their election campaigns”, he said.

“It is essential that we all go together to show our respect and compassion for all those who gave their lives,” Karamarko added.

The HDZ presidential candidate, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, who was also present in the column of marchers, left a comment on Facebook, calling Vukovar a “wound in Croatia's heart that will never heal”.

After a short prayer at the cemetery, Josipovic laid a wreath at the central memorial in the name of the state. Soon afterwards, the state delegation left the cemetery.

Josipovic stated that he felt proud to be there because Croatia “respected the dignity of Vukovar and all those who died.

“Although there were attempts to obstruct [politicians attending the march], they have failed. The Croatia that respects Vukovar has won,” concluded Josipovic.

Afterwards the state delegation went to Ovcara, a few kilometres outside Vukovar, where Serbian forces shot over 200 captured soldiers and civilians.

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